A new draft law is set to classify islands in Rwanda into different categories and will have dedicated special conservation, Sunday Times has learnt.
Remy Duhuze, REMA’s Director of Environmental Regulations and Pollution Control at Rwanda Environment Management Authority said that the draft law was under discussion with various institutions.
He said that before the law was proposed, an islands inventory had been conducted indicating 131 islands in all lakes across the country.
“There are 23 lakes in Rwanda. Of 131 islands we have mapped, 113 islands are located in Lake Kivu on part of Rwanda. We need to categorize them for special conservation,” he said.
Environmental experts say that islands were of huge importance since they are biodiversity hotspots and home to rare species.
They are sea-level indicators and conservation frontiers considering that the consequences of sea-level rise manifest quickly on islands.
Islands are also resting stops and nesting sites for birds and they house over 600 million people worldwide which are one-tenth of the world's population who are dependent on healthy islands for survival.
Islands are key foundations for coral reef ecosystem which provide habitats and shelter for many marine organisms.
Literature shows that Islands make up 5.3 per cent of Earth's land area and maintain an estimated 19 per cent of bird species, 17 per cent of rodents, 17 per cent of flowering plants, and 27 per cent of human languages.
Construction activities and agricultural activities are the main encroachers and polluters. / Courtesy
With the paramount role, Duhuze said Rwanda has taken steps to protect them.
“We have drafted a law on protecting islands but we still have to agree on some elements that make it. One proposal is to put islands into two categories; the first is islands that can be inhabited and be used by people such as in agricultural activities but which must comply with the law to protect the 50-metre buffer zone. The other is islands that can become public properties with special protection after expropriating people living there,” he said
The other alternative proposal is to be classified into three categories, he noted.
“These include those which can be inhabited by doing different activities including agriculture. The second category could be the islands that can be turned into a tourist destination where hotels can even be constructed. The third proposed category could be conservation islands where no single activity can be allowed on that land,” he explained.
Duhuze said they are still revisiting the draft law to agree on the classification since the move could trigger expropriation of some people.
“Some islands are already inhabited and agricultural activities are conducted in those areas yet some of them may become conservation isles. Therefore the law must also clarify the process of how they can be expropriated,” he said.
Cracking down on encroachment
This week, REMA started cracking down illegal activities polluting lakes across the country including those owned by communities in the islands.
He said that residents on the islands are also encroaching the 50-metre buffer zone from the banks especially with agricultural and livestock activities.
This, he explained, could affect biodiversity including fish in the lakes.
“During rains, fertilizers and pesticides can flow into lakes and kill biodiversity. To avoid this buffer zones plant species must be protected so as to able to prevent those chemicals from entering water bodies. This is why farmers on islands and lakeshores are advised to avoid encroaching the buffer zone,” he said.
Investigations into encroachment will be conducted on Lakes Kivu, Muhazi, Mugesera, Burera and Ruhondo.
“We aim at having a clear status on the level of encroachment of the buffer zone. We have to know types of main encroachment and owners of those activities, location of illegal activities in the area, status of biodiversity in the area and status of their damage,” he said.
Referring to article 49 of the Environmental law N°48/2018 of 13/08/2018, he said, polluting and damaging illegal activities must be removed.
“The law says that fines for those who pollute lakes range between Rwf500,000 and Rwf5 million. We also have the option to take them to court,” he said.
Polluting lakes could affect fish production in the country since fish reproduction takes place on coasts of lakes.
Common fish species in Kivu include sardines (Isambaza), Haplochromis (Indugu) and Tilapia.
Total fish produced from Lake Kivu was 18,879 tons in 2018, amounting to 70 per cent of total fish production in Rwanda but REMA says encroachment could reduce production.